As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney is not allowed to have more than one living wife. Not only is it illegal in the U.S., it is also grounds for excommunication from the church, which Mormons believe denies someone access to their family and to the highest heaven in the next life.
The current Mormon policy of excommunicating people who take more than one living wife, however, is outlined in Official Declaration 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants, received as revelation by the LDS prophet Wilford Woodruff in 1890. Before that time, LDS church leaders frequently took multiple wives and taught of the "numerous evils" of monogamy, as well as preaching against the "immorality" of legal prohibitions against polygamy.
Where Romney's family fits in
Romney's ancestors were among the early Latter-Day Saints who practiced polygamy, according to an MSNBC report. His great-grandfather, Miles Park Romney, brought a group of Mormons to Mexico to escape "not persecution but prosecution ... (for) what Mormons called 'plural marriage.'" His father, George Romney, was born in Mexico, but the family left to escape the Mexican Revolution. Some English-speaking Romneys stayed behind, and their descendants still live across the border.
Could Romney practice polygamy in the future?
At the time Official Declaration 1 was given, it was ambiguous in context as to whether the church's leaders meant what they said or were trying to divert attention from their continued practice of polygamy, according to Mormon anthropologist Daymon Smith. Groups of "fundamentalist" Mormons like Warren Jeffs believe the latter and continue to live as they believe God intended.
Romney is not a fundamentalist Mormon and would be excommunicated if he became one. The commentary included with that declaration in the LDS scriptures, however, explains the reason the church was halting the practice of polygamy was because it had been declared illegal and the church faced the confiscation of its assets. It does not recant the practice or apologize for it, and it goes on to say if God hadn't commanded them to stop they would not have.
Do Mormons teach polygamy today?
Polygamy (as a part of "eternal marriage") is taught as an explanation for how only people who are "sealed" to a person of the opposite gender for eternity can enter the highest kingdom of heaven, when women are considered innately closer to God and will be in heaven in larger numbers. Because of this, polygamous relationships are considered not only acceptable, but essential, to have in the next life.
Beside that, if Romney's wife died, he would be able to be eternally "sealed" to another while still being sealed to her, giving him more than one wife in heaven. If he were to die instead, his widow would have to remarry for this life only, unless she got her sealing annulled -- something that requires the approval of the highest church leadership.
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